Compromise isn’t a four-letter word. (Oh, and rotate your tires.)
That’s a sample of the advice from Jim Bohannon, the Westwood One radio talk host. He spoke at summer commencement exercises at the University of North Georgia in Dahlonega, Ga. Curious what a radio host would say to graduating seniors, we asked Westwood One to send his text.
I thought about just texting this address to each of you, or posting it on Facebook, or Linked In, or Hooked Up, or whatever is the social media of the day. But here you are, resplendent in cap and gown, eager and idealistic, all set to absorb tired old cynicism in the time-honored manner…by stifling yawns. And so, let me begin by saying…will the driver of the silver-gray 2014 Toyota…..
Good. Now that I have your undivided attention, let me start by noting how extremely good many have become at tricking you into focusing your attention. We in the broadcast media are especially adept at this. And so, learn to screen out the extraneous. You’re going to encounter a lot of it.
Actually, my first real point is to apologize to you. We–members of my generation–are the first generation ever to spend the next generation’s–that is, your–wealth. And we did it, not because we were facing desperate circumstances. We did it … because we could … and because we can be extremely selfish. Don’t be like us in that respect, even if it means that you not only have to pay for our profligate ways, but to build back a nest egg for the generation after yours.
Something else of ours which you should avoid is the attention span of a housefly. We are the only society in history which can stand in front of a microwave oven yelling, “Hurry up! I haven’t got all minute!”. Yes, you do. So avoid thinking of life as akin to a tv sitcom, which can be concluded, with all loose ends tied, in half an hour including commercials. Real life isn’t like that. And much of the rest of the world doesn’t think like that. We plan our economy around the next quarterly dividend. Other societies plan for the next quarter of a century. And this gross national attention span is particularly dangerous given that our adversaries, real and potential, think long term.
And we do have adversaries, and they don’t like the way we hand out rights like they were…rights…or something. Further, they correctly identify those rights as deadly to whatever is their particular brand of despotism. And they will get rid of our rights if we give them the chance. Oh–one more thing about our rights: You have quite a few, although not as many as you may think. We often confuse our rights with our privileges and conveniences. For example, you have no right to board an airliner quickly. And with our rights come more than a few responsibilities. Nobody ever seems to talk much about those.
Don’t assume that there’ll be a big war. Strive to avoid a big war. But know that it remains a very real possibility, and likely will for the rest of your young lives.
Now then, having said all that, let me note that your parents have, so far, managed to avoid that big war, and they’ve given you what is, for all its warts, the most free society in history. And they’ve given you the best standard of living, and a mostly peaceful, stable society. In short, your parents, for all their flaws, aren’t as dumb as they may seem. Or, at least, someday you may be as dumb as we are. Perhaps even more disquieting, some day you’ll look like us.
And I’ll tell you something else: We baby boomers will not go quietly into the night. There are still almost as many of us as there are of you, and we intend to hang on forever, sucking on our inflated notion of our entitlements, even at your expense, largely because….we vote.
It’s a fact that, since 18-year-olds got the vote 46 years ago, the 18-21 year old age group has consistently been the group least likely to cast ballots. Why don’t you? I recall the first time I voted with a sense of empowerment akin to the day I got my driver’s license. And don’t even buy that cynical notion that your vote doesn’t count. In a closely divided electorate such as ours, any group which suddenly starts voting can swing elections. So register. And vote. And if a candidate strikes your fancy, work for him or her. And remember this, digital generation: Everybody can have a slick website. Pretty graphics are no way to judge a candidate or a cause. You must learn critical thinking skills–the ability to sort out the worthwhile from the B.S. Develop a good B.S. detector. You’re gonna need it.
A word you need to remember is: fair. As in, mostly, life isn’t. Get over it and move on. Oh sure, you should strive to make life more fair, but when it isn’t, no whining, please. Real life offers few safe spaces, and only the truly superior actually get trophies. Further, this is not only fair, it’s essential. How else do we obtain excellence, unless we reward it? Which leads to self-esteem. In the real world, you’ll be expected to earn it, while you’re being graded and rated and judged and nudged. Anyone who has ever tried to shield you from this has done you no favors, but only set you up for failure. And speaking of unfair things, consider privacy. We’re losing it. Some of it is lost, at least we hope, in the noble quest to protect us from terror. You’ll have to decide the merits of that on a case by case basis, but do try to protect privacy. It’s the basis of human dignity.
Something else to keep in mind: You should strive to be something. Something good, hopefully, but at least be something. Surveys indicate that far too many young people wish, not to be president, or a doctor, or a lawyer, or even a movie star. They don’t even want to be rich as much as they want to be famous. For what, doesn’t seem to matter to some, but it does matter. Lee Harvey Oswald is famous. Fame…isn’t enough. If you actually accomplish things, then fame, at least meaningful fame, will take care of itself.
Now at this point, commencement speeches usually wrap up with a look at the big picture. Frankly, I think that’s overrated. And so, I’d like to conclude with a few looks at the little picture–some hors d’oeuvres for thought, if you will, which might actually be useful. And so…the little picture:
Number 1: Rotate your tires. And keep them balanced. with proper air pressure. And check their tread. And check your oil and transmission fluid. And check your smoke detectors and change your furnace filters. These are little things, but important things, sometimes even lifesaving things, and probably things which, til now, many of your parents have handled. Now it’s your turn with the mundane details. Before the month of August is out, I expect all of you to have rotated your tires.
Little picture number 2: The cold, cruel, real world will often demand that you have decent clothing and a haircut. Yes, that’s their definition of decent, and yes, that’s arbitrary, and yes, that’s the way it is. If you don’t want to throw avoidable roadblocks in your path, deal with it.
Little picture number 3: Former basketball great Charles Barkley once said, “I am not a role model”. As shocking as it may seem, Sir Charles is wrong on this one. Role model is not a voluntary position. We are all role models–good role models or bad role models.
Little picture number 4: Compromise isn’t a 4 letter word. It is, in fact, what enables free people to self-govern. You should have certain core principles, to be sure, but otherwise, be prepared to dicker with the other person, who just might be…right.
Little picture number 5: Compromise usually involves going more than 51% of the way, especially in marriage. Which is a great institution, by the way, should you choose to be institutionalized. There are very good legal, moral, and practical reasons why people who bring children into this world should be married.
Little picture number 6: Establish credit. I gather that’s not too hard to do these days, what with stories of infants, dead people–like my own mother, gone 14 years now, and even pets being issued credit cards. But, if by some chance, you’ve not borrowed, do so. Just to prove that you can be depended on to pay it back. Unless, of course, it’s a student loan. Just kidding. But if you think this is a cash society, try renting a car or a hotel room without a credit card.
Little picture number 7: Having established credit, don’t use it, unless you really have to. Consumer debt has become a backbreaking burden in this country, one of our biggest problems, next to the national debt, which is now over 61,000 dollars per citizen. You really can wait to get that second jacuzzi. And if you can’t keep up with the Joneses, too bad. Either raise your income or lower your expectations.
Little picture number 8: Lowered expectations are the secret to happiness.
Little picture number 9: Don’t just avoid debt–actually save. Starting right now. Discover the wonders of compound interest. If you save as little as 10 dollars a week over 43 years, at 8% interest, which some stocks can yield, you’ll have over one million dollars.
Little picture number 10: Just because something is new doesn’t automatically make it better. And just because something is old doesn’t automatically mean it should be replaced.
Little picture number 11: Don’t limit yourself. You’ll run into many people who’ll go out of their way to limit you, and when you limit yourself, you’re stealing their job. And, in many cases, their happiness.
And little picture number 12: You spent the first years of your life dependent. Your parents even claimed you as one on their taxes. Depending on your age, you couldn’t drive, drink, vote, work, join the military, sign legal contracts, or otherwise control your lives. Now, you can. You can now do pretty much what you want: Travel the world to find yourself. Starve in a bad job while living in a lousy apartment, just for that right career move. Because, from this point on, you’ll increasingly be unable, or unwilling, to do that. You’ll assume obligations–families, mortgages, college payments for your kids–try complaining about that some day to your parents. My point is that you are more free, right now, than you ever have been and ever will be. Use that freedom. Capitalize on it. Enjoy it, and live an abundantly full life. One which can be fully taxed in order to support your parents in our retirement. Thank you, and good luck!